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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Railroad Worker Safety Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in CSX Transportation v. McBride. At stake in this case is the ability of railroad employees to hold their employers accountable when the employer’s negligence results in injury. The court must determine whether the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) requires proof that an employer’s negligence was the proximate cause of an employee’s injury or whether a showing that the negligence played some part in causing the injury is sufficient for liability.

Robert McBride was a conductor working for the rail transportation company CSX. McBride was injured when a braking system he was using for approximately seven to eight consecutive hours caused his hand to fatigue and fall into one of the brakes. McBride required two surgeries to repair the damage. In addition to pain and numbness, he still suffers from limited use of his hand.

McBride sued CSX under FELA, a statute designed to improve health and safety conditions for railroad workers. A jury awarded damages to McBride because the configuration of the trains required constant maneuvers that caused his fatigue. FELA states that a railroad company is liable for injury or death “resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of” that company. CSX challenges the jury’s finding of liability on the ground that the trial judge’s jury instructions did not add a requirement that the company’s negligence also had to be the proximate cause of the injury. McBride’s attorney argues that FELA contains no such requirement.

If the Supreme Court sides with CSX, railroad employees and their survivors will have a more difficult time holding negligent employers responsible when they are injured or killed on the job.

Click here for coverage of oral arguments and here for transcripts.

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